AAA Forecasts A Decrease In Christmas Holiday Travel For The First Time In Six Years

FLORHAM PARK—AAA projects a slight decline in the number of Americans traveling during the Christmas holiday period (Dec. 19 – 31).  Nearly 63.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home, approximately 1.4 million (2.1 percent) fewer than last year’s total of 65.3 million.  This represents the first decline in Christmas holiday travel in six years.  AAA has projected year-to-year decreases in the number of travelers for all the major driving holidays in 2008 (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

“The current economic landscape has caused many people to rethink how they spend their money,” said Rick Zeckendorf, vice president of travel services for the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club.  “Money that would have ordinarily been spent on travel is now being used for other expenses and, as a result, people are exhibiting caution when deciding how to spend their available dollars.”

AAA predicts that about 52.4 million people (82 percent of all travelers) will drive to their holiday destinations, a decrease of 1.2 percent (about 700,000 travelers) from the number of people who traveled by automobile last year.

An estimated 8.1 million (13 percent of all travelers) expect to travel by airplane, an 8.5 percent decline from the 8.9 million travelers who flew last year.   More than 3.3 million Americans are expected to travel by train or bus, representing a slight increase (0.7 percent) from last year.

Holiday auto travelers can count lower prices at the pump among the gifts they’ll get this year.

The current nationwide average price for a gallon of regular gas is $1.66, down 42 cents from one month ago and $1.33 lower than one year ago.

New Jersey motorists are paying an average of $1.56 for a gallon, down 45 cents from one month ago and $1.34 lower than one year ago.  The average price for a gallon of gas has not been at this level in nearly five years (February 2004).

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index (LTI), which is based on available rates this holiday, Americans can expect lower hotel rates and higher car rental rates throughout the holiday season.  However, travelers can expect different trends in airfares depending on the week of travel.

For people traveling during Christmas week (Dec. 21 – 26), rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels are down an average of three percent compared to last year.  On average, travelers renting a vehicle at their final destination will pay two percent more than a year ago for the same period.  Air passengers, however, can expect some relief in airfares this Christmas with prices nine percent less than last year.

Those planning to travel during New Year’s week (Dec. 29 – Jan. 2) will welcome a significant decline in hotel costs with rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels 16 percent less than a year ago.  Car rental rates are eight percent higher than last year for the same period.  People traveling by air will pay an average of three percent more for airfares than a year ago.

AAA advises passengers to check with their travel counselor or individual airline about additional fees before booking a trip.  Most airlines continue to charge fees for checked baggage and other previously complimentary services, including beverages and snacks.

Research for Christmas holiday travel projections are derived from the Travel Industry Association’s (TIA) Holiday Travel Forecast Model.  The model was developed based on consumer travel intentions and TIA’s quarterly travel forecast data.  The travel intentions data are collected through an online survey of nearly 2,300 adults nationwide, supplemented by an additional 5,000 Americans surveyed from the top 10 states of origin in the United States.  Historical travel volume and other economic data such as GDP, disposable income, employment and travel costs (including fuel prices) are also incorporated into the model.  Analysis of the data and the forecasts are produced by the Travel Industry Association, which conducts special research for AAA.

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